Some Big Changes for Tim Drake
SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains spoilers for the Tim Drake story in Batman: Urban Legends #6.
Okay, don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. All right, fine, you can freak out, but please freak respectfully. As of August 10th, 2021, your headcanon is real: Tim Drake dates boys.
If you’re a member of DC’s significant queer community, then you already understand why this is a big deal. In fact, you’ve probably been waiting for a moment like this for a very long time. But for the uninitiated, please allow me to explain.
This week, Batman: Urban Legends #6 includes the culmination of a three-part story by writer Meghan Fitzmartin, artist Belen Ortega, colorist Alejandro Sánchez and letterer Pat Brosseau about Tim Drake, the premiere Robin of the 90’s and many of our childhoods, and the most responsible boy to ever don the red and green. After the horrific murder of Jason Todd, it was Tim who brought Batman back from the darkest place in his life—not to pursue any personal dream of crimefighting and costume-donning, but because “Batman needs a Robin.”
As Fitzmartin and company have explored in this Urban Legends story, “Tim Drake: Sum of Our Parts,” it’s that element which has defined Tim Drake’s existence since he first appeared. The third Robin has always been someone who puts the needs of others before himself, filling vacancies where no one else steps up. He bears Batman, Young Justice and the Teen Titans like a weary Atlas, being whatever he needs to be to keep the world at balance. But that’s the problem, too. If Tim Drake can be anything to anyone, who is he to himself? What does Tim Drake want out of life? What is his true secret identity?
Practically since the moment comic books were invented, misinformed parents and authority figures have lambasted them as tools for corrupting America’s youth. Towards criminal thoughts, immoral deeds, and, worst of all to straight-laced mid-century nuclear families, homosexuality. Queer coding in comics, the idea of expressing your true self through a colorful costume as you hid your dual identity from the world, was once considered too scandalous for a largely homophobic nation. As queer kids were finding a piece of themselves in characters like Robin, judges and psychologists and even the comic book publishers themselves, wary of a culture turning against them, did everything they could to censor queer themes from comics for decades to come. But even as those themes were stifled, speculation on Robin’s sexuality has never stopped.
And despite a multitude of new Robins, each with a parade of their own heteronormative partners, queer readers have continued to see a piece of themselves within the Boy Wonder. Queer readings of Robin continue to proliferate through his stories. Friendships between Dick Grayson and Wally West, Jason Todd and Roy Harper, Tim Drake and Conner Kent, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, and even Damian Wayne and Jon Kent have been perceived as something closer than friendship time and again, by queer readers searching for themselves within Batman’s world. But that should be no surprise. All the way back in 1940, Robin was created with the intention of being a reader surrogate—a character who readers could project themselves onto, fighting crime across rooftops under the enigmatic Batman’s wing. There have been female Robins, Black Robins, rich Robins, poor Robins. Why would a queer reader, especially one overtly ostracized by comics culture itself for so many decades, feel any less worthy of that same surrogate relationship?
“Tim Drake: Sum of Our Parts” begins with a question, from the all-seeing Oracle to the oft-overlooked Tim Drake. We learn that Tim has broken up with his long-time girlfriend and fellow former Robin, Stephanie Brown, for reasons unclear even to him. He’s been Robin to the Teen Titans, Red Robin to an absent Batman, and Drake to Young Justice—but when is he going to take the time to figure out who he is to himself?
Very soon, we see Tim catching up with an old friend from his original ongoing comic series, Bernard Dowd. In the original comic stories where he appeared, Bernard considered himself something of a self-styled ladies’ man. But he was one who tended to get jealous whenever Tim was dating, and who valued his time with Tim above all else—and perhaps vice versa. He was someone who Tim Drake could just be Tim Drake around, unlike any of the various supersuited figures in his life. A person who just allowed him to express himself, as himself, outside of a city- or world-saving capacity.
For their reunion all these years later, Tim is clearly very nervous. He’s borrowed one of his foster brother Dick’s old suits. He’s awestruck by Bernard’s appearance. He banters with his old classmate over the check. And when Bernard gets abducted mid-outing by “The Chaos Monster,” Tim becomes Robin in order to save him. And because he’s Robin, save him he does, but not before hearing a confession from Bernard which ignites a long-dormant lightbulb over his head.
“Please,” Bernard tells Robin. “Tell Tim Drake… he helped me realize my true self. Who I am. Tell him… well, he probably already knows. He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met. But tell him… I wish we could have finished our date.”
Suddenly, a dozen things start happening in Tim’s head at once. Uncountable tangled questions about his own identity come loose, ready to be pulled apart for the first time. And the moment he’s able to, Robin becomes Tim Drake, and arrives at Bernard’s door to explore those feelings. But before he can get very far, it’s Bernard Dowd who asks Tim on a second date.
Tim Drake, bless his heart, says yes.
“Yeah… yeah, I think I want that.”
Smiling brighter and truer than he ever has before, thanks to the jubilant artwork by Belen Ortega.
This is, as I’ve said, a very big deal. In fact, that may be underselling it. For a certain, significant portion of Batman readers, the Gotham Outsiders who have always found themselves looking in, it’s a moment which we’ll continue to be talking about, to be celebrating, for years. The moment that queer fans were—not through subtext, and not through permissible “point of view” reading—but unabashedly, textually supported for the first time since Kate Kane was kicked out of West Point. The moment that a Robin, any Robin, but particularly a Robin with history and legacy and now decades of queer-coded readings under his utility belt, was allowed to be the queer icon he’s always been.
But the text right under Tim’s acceptance—of Bernard’s invitation, and to a greater understanding of his own self—may be the best part of all. It’s the part that says, “TO BE CONTINUED.” This isn’t the end of Tim Drake’s self-discovery. We’ve only just reached the beginning. And you can be sure that in Batman: Urban Legends #10, we’ll all be there to follow this personal journey wherever it goes.
Tim Drake nation, rise up. There’s no turning back now.
Batman: Urban Legends #6, featuring “Tim Drake: Sum of Our Parts” by Meghan Fitzmartin, Belen Ortega and Alejandro Sanchez, is now available in print and as a digital comic book.